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Pixar and RenderMan: Changing the distributed rendering game

Pixar and RenderMan: Changing the distributed rendering game

Recently, Pixar Animation Studios released a new product in their RenderMan lineup. This product, called RenderMan On Demand, comes from a joint effort between Pixar and GreenButton, offering cloud rendering services to studios worldwide. RenderMan On Demand is an awesome example of cloud technology, and it’s shaking up the industry by changing much about how studios can render imagery in production.

Let’s pause for a moment to give a quick background on what we’re talking about here. In computer graphics, rendering is the process of turning what is essentially data in a graphics package into images. Typically, these images are frames used for creating portions of film. Rendering is an intensive process, and can take anywhere from a few hours to days per frame to complete a single image depending on the complexity of the scene. This is generally done on massive farms of CPU cores, through which distribution of the processing allows for a speedier result.

Most large studios operate their own render farms, which require vast amounts of capital for upkeep and operation costs. Expensive hardware purchases aside, render farm costs are high because of the monumental electricity use, as well as the costs in keeping the farm cooled. The paradox of the render farm is that the smaller studios that need the power and speed of a render farm to compete at the level of large studios typically cannot afford the equipment and upkeep costs required to deliver those kind of results.

Pixar's Render Farm

Pixar's Render Farm is open 24 hours!

This is where RenderMan On Demand steps in. Like Buzz Lightyear lifting the train out of the gorge, RenderMan On Demand supports small and medium studios by connecting them to high-density rendering cores via the cloud. Pixar’s partnership with Greenbutton, who specializes in performance cloud computing solutions, has resulted in a solution that grants nearly instantaneous burst rendering for RenderMan on Demand users. Studios no longer have to employ their own render farm to output their imagery.

According to Pixar’s press release, the service will allow users to connect to hundreds and thousands of additional rendering cores. Initially targeted at small to medium sized studios that operate in a Windows environment, RenderMan On Demand will expand into a comprehensive solution for larger studios, in addition to Linux environments, over the next two years.

This isn’t the first cloud rendering solution for studios, but it is arguably the most important. Pixar have led the visual effects and animation revolution with RenderMan. Considering that RenderMan is the gold standard of the industry, a cloud rendering solution built upon that foundation of success and reliability results in a service that users will know to be of the highest quality and efficiency.

This is a game changer for many artists and studios out there. Because of the time requirement with rendering, some complex scenes could actually take longer than 24 hours to render out (there is word that some frames of James Cameron’s AVATAR took 30-50 hours to render, and that was with the help of a large render farm!). One of the obvious problems with render times this long is that artists can lose an entire day’s worth of productivity while they wait to see the results of their work. If something is wrong in the finished render, the artist must adjust and then wait again. Whereas previously the render dilemma could be crippling to production workflows—especially to studios that are incapable of building their own high-density render farm—the same studios can use RenderMan On Demand to boost their rendering capabilities without the need for spending excessive capital.

Luxo Lamp

RenderMan On Demand has an incredible legacy behind it

The elegance of the RenderMan On Demand solution is that it integrates into a studio’s current workflow. RenderMan on Demand is simply a distributed rendering solution; so as long as a studio is using RenderMan in their pipeline, they simply interface their 3D package (Autodesk Maya, for instance) through RenderMan to Greenbutton’s cloud service and render on their cores. The studio doesn’t have to make any major changes to their currently employed workflow to take advantage of the massive amounts of cores offered by RenderMan On Demand.

RenderMan On Demand is a fantastic example of how cloud computing can improve a massive industry. Smaller studios will now have a better chance to produce high quality, photorealistic results in a timely manner with this service. They’ll be able to compete with the larger studios in a way that was but a pipe dream previously.

This is an exciting development for the world of computer graphics. In two decades of RenderMan success, Pixar have played a large role in shaping the computer graphics industry. After all, RenderMan has been behind every single Academy Award winner for visual effects for the past 15 years. It seems fitting, then, that Pixar begins a new era for RenderMan with a product that will revolutionize production pipelines for studios of all sizes. It seems as if they’re helping write the script for an underdog story, in which small studios will have the opportunity to emerge as heroes. Who wouldn’t want to see that story play out?


  1. nobody important hmmm how many studios would be keen to send their rendering jobs to a rendering pipeline operated by a rival studio... Have you considered this?
    of course there might be small scale studios working on small project but generally most studios i guess would want to keep details to themselves till release.... Without knowing the terms between greenbutton and pixar i would say that this is a dangerous thing... cloud computing is a dangerous beat and not a knight in shining armour....
  2. Bill Corless I suppose the cost of using the service would justify itself, assuming the cost of buying new equipment for a one-off feature might not be cost effective. I think the cost of the service would have to be affordable and the security concerns would be the primary factors in small studio adoption.

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